What is Palliative Care?

By: JP Leiva

Palliative Care is synonymous with Palliative Medicine and is defined as the study and management of the care of patients suffering from progressive, active and advanced stages of illness for whom the prognosis is limited and the principal therapeutic objective is to ensure quality of life (Association for Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland, 1987 – a document elaborated in the context of the declaration of Palliative Medicine as a specialization in the field of medicine in the United Kingdom in 1987).

These days it is widely acknowledged that every patient suffering from the advanced stages of an incurable illness has the right to receive Palliative Care, no matter what their pathology and irrespective of whether this means receiving this care in a hospital or in the home. Palliative Care should never be seen as an “optional extra” treatment or as a whim on the part of the doctor prescribing it. It is instead a fundamental human right to receive relief from the suffering caused by an illness which may or may not be curable.

In Spain the principal provider of Palliative Care is the national health service. Although it originated from the provision of relief to patients in the advanced stages of cancer, in the past 20 years this medical specialisation has developed to cover treatment for patients with neurological issues, infectious diseases (HIV-AIDS), renal, cardiopathic [check this in a medical dictionary!!] and other organ failures and is nowadays attracting more and more interest and developing in countries around the world.

Access to Palliative Care for patients with progressive and active diseases and in their advanced stages is determined according to the national health system of each country. In general, one way of access, as with all medical specializations, is via the general practitioner (in Health Centres) – although in many instances it can also be through specialized attention given in hospital. Checking with you general practitioner of specialist on whether a patient is a suitable candidate for Palliative Care is the right thing to do.

The Spanish Society for Palliative Care (“SECPAL” by its initials in Spanish) has on its website a directory of resources in Palliative Care via which you can check for the one nearest to your home.

For Europe, you can find all the Palliative Care centres and resources in the European Atlas of Palliative Care, you can download a PDF file.

For Latin America, you can find all the Palliative Care centres and resources in the Latin America Atlas of Pallitive Care.

For Australia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu y Vanuatu, you can find all the Palliative Care centres by download the Global Atlas resources.

Palliative Care treatments are provided by a multidisciplinary team, meaning that as a norm this team should comprise components of medical, nursing, social work, psychological and spiritual expertise. Some teams also involve physiotherapy and other services.

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